Larry's Other Legacy

June 14, 2006

Child care in Boston isn’t exactly cheap, and child care at Harvard University isn’t exactly ideal.

In a survey last fall of 244 faculty members, child care was ranked as the “least effective” policy or practice at Harvard. As part of a push to make Harvard more family friendly and more appealing to female faculty members, Harvard announced Tuesday that it will expand its child care offerings and strengthen parental leave policies.

About a year ago, President Lawrence H. Summers -- now infamous for his disparaging comments about women’s innate ability in science -- said that Harvard would spend more than $50 million to create a better university for women.

Administrators said Tuesday that they’ll start with $7.5 million for child care and other programs to help faculty and staff members balance kids and career.

Harvard plans to add 100 child-care spots on campus, to the current 350, for which there’s a waiting list 150 children long. The six on-campus day-care centers, and funding allotted for grants for employees to purchase child care, either at Harvard, or elsewhere, will receive annual increases of around 50 percent. Over $2 million will now be designated for grants each year.

Pilot funding for child care by family members or outside providers will also be made available for employees who make less than $55,000. Harvard officials said that program is targeted mainly at staff members.

“We’re trying to deliver based on what people told us were obstacles,” said Marilyn Hausammann, vice president for human resources.

Women are currently much better represented among tenure-track, non-tenured faculty at Harvard than among tenured faculty. For example, in the natural sciences, 25 percent of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences tenure-track professors are women, while only 8 percent of the tenured professors are women.

Evelynn M. Hammonds, senior provost for faculty development and diversity -- a position that was created in the wake of Summers’s comments -- said that the present numbers are what make it such a critical time for Harvard to improve family policies. “This will be very important for those women rising through the ranks,” Hammonds said, “and when they get promoted, that’s how we’ll increase the number of women senior faculty members.”

Debra T. Auguste, assistant professor of bioengineering at Harvard, has an 11-month-old son. “This affects me a lot,” she said. “It’s very difficult for women faculty to be as productive when we essentially have two full time careers.”

Auguste said that providing more on-campus day care slots could be especially helpful, because “in an ideal world,” she said, her child would be “nearby to my office, so that I could visit during short breaks.”

The changes are detailed in a report, also released Tuesday.  

The report also outlined revisions to policies about parental leave.

Harvard “is now supporting what we would call a floor, so every school at least has to provide teaching relief for birth parents and adoptive parents up to at least one semester,” Hammonds said. Previously, many parents took only a few weeks off, and the leave was not extended to adoptive parents.

Additionally, tenure clock extensions will be made automatic upon the birth or adoption of a child. All of the changes apply to both mothers and fathers.

Auguste said that it might still be difficulty for junior faculty members to take advantage of extra leave because “there are expectations,” she said, “not only put on you by your community, but by yourself.”

Some money will also be made available for extra staff and equipment to help junior faculty members who are parents stay on course for tenure.

Alyssa Goodman, professor of astronomy at Harvard, said that the changes are “a great step,” and will probably “help people on the margin,” but that that they certainly won’t automatically usher in throngs of female faculty members.

Goodman said that, to get more female faculty members, the academy has to learn to appreciate different approaches, and not simply pay attention to family issues.

“Women, systematically, I think, tend often to have a style where they will say less both in person and on paper,” Goodman said. “They’re less willing to go out on shaky limbs, or to write a paper when they have nothing to say.”

Essentially, she said, women are “not as willing to shoot their mouths off as men,” and that they are thus often perceived as being less prolific and visible. “Universities like Harvard like people who get a lot of attention, and it’s usually by being relatively vocal.” (Summers himself, perhaps, was an exception when it came to being appreciated for outspokenness.)

Goodman said that by getting more faculty members whose approach “involves more circumspection,” Harvard might diversify intellectually and bring in more women in the process.

“Larry Summers said some obviously incorrect things,” Goodman said. “But some things were probably correct but dangerous to say … that women and men may traditionally have different styles of going about things … so Larry goes and sticks his foot in his mouth, and all this good goes and comes from it.… It’s sort of what he was trying to do.”

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